To say Chef Doug Psaltis has high hopes for Pizzeria Portofino, the newest member of the Lettuce Entertain You dining family, would be an understatement. In fact, he views the restaurant as something of a milestone.
“This will sort of finalize the riverfront with a casual, full-service restaurant,” Psaltis says.
The new spot, slated to open in July on the river at Clark Street, will offer pizzas, charcoal-grilled seafood, and a formidable wine menu.
Pizzeria Portofino is part of a larger complex, all under the Lettuce umbrella. RPM On the Water, an outpost of the brand that includes RPM Italian and RPM Steak, will open later this fall at street level. One floor down will be RPM Events on the Water, a new private event venue. Pizzeria Portofino is the lowest of the three, with a 60-seat patio space directly at river level.
“This, for us, should be [like] one of those great pizzerias of the Riviera, the Italian coast — someplace you’d go for charcoal grilled seafood, fantastic pizza, and salty, minerally coastal wines,” Psaltis says.
The menu isn’t final yet, but you can expect plenty of antipasti, like vegetables, salumi, olives, artichoke dip, stuffed peppers, and shrimp. All pizzas will be thin-crust and made with flour sourced from Italy; the signature pie will be topped with salumi from vendors like Tempesta and Salumi Chicago.
“We just want a great, light, crisp pizza,” Psaltis says. “Great olive oil, great cheese, very simple.”
Grilled seafood will be another staple of the restaurant, prepared over hardwood charcoal.
“I think in every beach town in Europe, you find these charcoal grills outside restaurants,” Psaltis says.
The fish will be dressed with nothing but olive oil and seasonings. That’s why Psaltis is spending extra time and effort sourcing the best seafood he can find, including specialties like coldwater red prawns.
“[Italian chefs] purchase whatever’s fresh,” he says. “The hardest part is finding great products and staying out of their way.”
When Psaltis says Pizzeria Portofino will “finalize” the Riverfront, he means there isn’t really a full-service restaurant down there right now, much less one open year-round.
“There aren’t many places to go for dinner, to make an evening out of it,” says Psaltis.
Unlike the rest of the walk, however, the restaurant will remain open all year, though the patio will close in bad weather.
According to Psaltis, the prices will be more approachable than other RPM restaurants — he describes Pizzeria Portofino as the “playful cousin” of the brand. There will be slips for docking boats, and a special takeout menu for adventurers heading out onto the water.
It’s still a few weeks before the restaurant opens, but when it does, it’ll be open for brunch, lunch, and dinner.